Bespoke SF Spring 2014 : Page 18

Quench The Magic of Mescal SECTION BY LANEE LEE The oldest spirit in North America, this Mexican staple is becoming a spirit of choice in craft cocktail bars around the globe. can be made from, it’s more like It’s taken 400 years, but, wine,” explains Fausto Zapata, finally, mescal is having its day in the co-founder of Mezcal El the sun as premium brands make Silencio. Some of the most com-the trek north of the Mexican monly used agave species include border. Known as tequila’s mys-espadin, tobala, barril, arroqueno terious older brother, mescal (also and coyote. referred to as mezcal) is distilled Yet, it’s not just the species of from agave—similar to tequila, agave that yields distinction; it’s yet vastly different. also the wood that it’s smoked Agave fermentation has a long with and the type of water used in history in Mexico that dates distillation. According to Zapata, back more than 2,000 years, the complex flavor profile of mes-when a low-alcohol, milky white cal is just one of the reasons for its drink called pulque first made an rise in popularity in the U.S. appearance. But, it wasn’t until the Raul Yrastorza, bar manager of Spanish conquistadors introduced the Mexican-themed Las Perlas modern distillation techniques tequila and mescal bar in Los that mescal was born. Angeles, gives another reason: “It “Tequila is mescal, but mes-stems from a long, hard road paved cal is not tequila,” says Nickolas by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey,” Potocic, of The Mezco Group, a he explains. Like the godfather of U.S. importer of premium arti-the forgotten spirit, Cooper started sanal brands, including Cha cha a pilgrimage 15 years ago, bringing cha and Mezcal Enmascarado. Del Maguey mescal to the U.S. Those not intimately familiar Traditionally found in “mesca-with the specific processes used in larias” (mescal bars) throughout distillation might wonder exactly Mexico, the spirit is served in rus-what the difference is between tic earthenware cups or upcycled these two kindred spirits. In the Catholic candle glasses. The glass “palenque” (a facility where mes-is rimmed with sea salt infused cal is made), the “pina” (heart of with the larvae that live off the the agave) is slow-roasted in clay agave plant, as well as chili and pots over a fire pit, giving mescal orange peel with a side of orange its defining, smoky flavor. Agave slices. Yet, many aficionados say in tequila production is steamed these accoutrements, much like salt in pressure cookers. According to and lime served with tequila, only Mexican regulations, mescal must Mescal can also be used in cocktails, like the Old Oaxacan by Mezcal El Silencio. serve to mask an inferior spirit. be made from 100 percent agave; Yrastorza, who says he introduced the first mescal industrialized, corporate operation. tequila must be made from at least 51 percent. The principal distinction between the two sib-flight in Los Angeles many years ago, adds that pre-Mescal production continues to typically be a family owned and operated business, made on ling spirits, however, is the agave. Unlike tequila, mium mescal should be served neat—no oranges, rural farms—mostly in Oaxaca—utilizing rustic which can only be made with one varietal—weber no worm salt—in a stemmed tasting glass. And, tools and methods, with “palenqueros” (mescal blue—mescal can be made from roughly 30 spe-most importantly, mescal is meant to be sipped, producers, also known as “mescaleros”) using secret cies of agave plants, although some experts say which allows the full flavors to wash over the palate. No matter which method is chosen, however, recipes passed down over generations. Tequila, to exponentially more since it’s not clearly defined by the saying holds true: You don’t find mescal— keep up with its celebrity status and immense Mexico’s regulatory council. “With the all the different agave plants mescal mescal finds you. global demand, has, for the most part, become an MARCOS TELLO 18

Quench

Lanee Lee

The Magic of Mescal

The oldest spirit in North America, this Mexican staple is becoming a spirit of choice in craft cocktail bars around the globe.

It’s taken 400 years, but, finally, mescal is having its day in the sun as premium brands make the trek north of the Mexican border. Known as tequila’s mysterious older brother, mescal (also referred to as mezcal) is distilled from agave—similar to tequila, yet vastly different.

Agave fermentation has a long history in Mexico that dates back more than 2,000 years, when a low-alcohol, milky white drink called pulque first made an appearance. But, it wasn’t until the Spanish conquistadors introduced modern distillation techniques that mescal was born.

“Tequila is mescal, but mescal is not tequila,” says Nickolas Potocic, of The Mezco Group, a U. S. importer of premium artisanal brands, including Cha cha cha and Mezcal Enmascarado.

Those not intimately familiar with the specific processes used in distillation might wonder exactly what the difference is between these two kindred spirits. In the “palenque” (a facility where mescal is made), the “pina” (heart of the agave) is slow-roasted in clay pots over a fire pit, giving mescal its defining, smoky flavor. Agave in tequila production is steamed in pressure cookers. According to Mexican regulations, mescal must be made from 100 percent agave; tequila must be made from at least 51 percent.

Mescal production continues to typically be a family owned and operated business, made on rural farms—mostly in Oaxaca—utilizing rustic tools and methods, with “palenqueros” (mescal producers, also known as “mescaleros”) using secret recipes passed down over generations. Tequila, to keep up with its celebrity status and immense global demand, has, for the most part, become an industrialized, corporate operation.

The principal distinction between the two sibling spirits, however, is the agave. Unlike tequila, which can only be made with one varietal—weber blue—mescal can be made from roughly 30 species of agave plants, although some experts say exponentially more since it’s not clearly defined by Mexico’s regulatory council.

“With the all the different agave plants mescal can be made from, it’s more like wine,” explains Fausto Zapata, the co-founder of Mezcal El Silencio. Some of the most commonly used agave species include espadin, tobala, barril, arroqueno and coyote.

Yet, it’s not just the species of agave that yields distinction; it’s also the wood that it’s smoked with and the type of water used in distillation. According to Zapata, the complex flavor profile of mescal is just one of the reasons for its rise in popularity in the U.S.

Raul Yrastorza, bar manager of the Mexican-themed Las Perlas tequila and mescal bar in Los Angeles, gives another reason: “It stems from a long, hard road paved by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey,” he explains. Like the godfather of the forgotten spirit, Cooper started a pilgrimage 15 years ago, bringing Del Maguey mescal to the U.S.

Traditionally found in “mescalarias” (mescal bars) throughout Mexico, the spirit is served in rustic earthenware cups or upcycled Catholic candle glasses. The glass is rimmed with sea salt infused with the larvae that live off the agave plant, as well as chili and orange peel with a side of orange slices. Yet, many aficionados say these accoutrements, much like salt and lime served with tequila, only serve to mask an inferior spirit.

Yrastorza, who says he introduced the first mescal flight in Los Angeles many years ago, adds that premium mescal should be served neat—no oranges, no worm salt—in a stemmed tasting glass. And, most importantly, mescal is meant to be sipped, which allows the full flavors to wash over the palate.

No matter which method is chosen, however, the saying holds true: You don’t find mescal— mescal finds you.

From the Top Shelf

Best served neat, these three premium mescals are among the must-sip spirits recommended by expert bartenders across the country.

MEZCAL EL SILENCIO

The spirit’s moniker—translated to “silence” in English— came from its distiller, a visionary craftsman by the name of Pedro Hernandez. He describes the first sip as the “Instagram moment,” one to capture for posterity; the second sip is when the flavors really explode, and nothing but silence would be an appropriate way to honor the drink. Launched in September 2013, and available in Los Angeles and online, El Silencio is a handcrafted, small-batch “joven” mescal made from three different species of 10- to 12-yearold- agave plants. It has a very subtle smokiness, with notes of citrus and a vanilla finish. “I wanted to create something smooth, approachable to those who haven’t tried it before,” explains co-founder Fausto Zapata. It’s an excellent introduction to the spirit, often appearing as the first taste in a mescal flight at Las Perlas in Los Angeles. (mezcalelsilencio.com)

DEL MAGUEY

No premium mescal list is complete without Ron Cooper’s Del Maguey, the first 100 percent certified organic, artisanal mescal imported to the U.S. nearly two decades ago. Known for its “single village mescal,” which is named after the villages in Mexico they originated from, Del Maguey offers a dizzying number of expressions. Like a scotch with its smoky characteristic, Del Maguey’s pechuga is the one to try—a rare, luxury mescal, indeed. It’s limited in production due to seasonal ingredients like wild mountain apples and plums, in addition to red plantain bananas, pineapples, almonds and uncooked white rice. Finally, an unusual technique is utilized during the third distillation: A thoroughly washed whole chicken breast is hung in the still, creating balanced portfolio of sweet and savory flavors that has become a staple in bars throughout Mexico and the U.S. (mezcal.com)

LOS SIETE MISTERIOS

Sampling the seven expressions of Los Siete Misterios is similar to a varietal wine tasting. Made in the traditional method (with a pit oven, agave smashed by hand, natural yeast fermentation and distillation in clay pots), Los Siete Misterios offers an insightful education into the nuances of the “maguey” (agave) as each of its varietals is distilled from a single variety. Only two, the arroqueno and doba-yej, are currently available in stores in the U. S.—specifically New York—but all seven can be purchased online. If you can attend a mescal tasting where Los Siete Misterios is being poured or pay a visit to the company’s distillery in Oaxaca, be sure to try the mescal distilled with coyote agave. With fruity tones of mango and pear preserves, and a finish of mint and chocolate, Raul Yrastorza, mescal expert at Las Perlas, deems this as the best of the seven. (sietemisterios.com)

Read the full article at http://trendmag2.trendoffset.com/article/Quench/1669790/202651/article.html.

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